Saturday, July 7, 2018

Wet Plate Development-Exposure Test 2.0




“How do I figure out how long to expose and develop for?”  This is a question I hear again and again as new collodion practitioners are added to the ranks.  Recent discussion with one of my students inspired me to this post. I think here is a simple and straight-forward example of how one can easily and quickly determine the two above factors in pretty much any new situation or with new chemistry (provided that all chemistry is harmonious).  

  Exposure test strip on a plate is done simply.  For some reason or another I actually never have done this test when I started, though I’ve seen it and it made a lot of sense.
  Before doing the test and with light on, pull out the dark slide in your holder, but not all the way out - only until it JUST disappears from the opening.  Now on the inside side of the slide draw a nice big line that will appear just as you pull it to that point – black fat Sharpie works well for this task, it’s black on black, but you’ll still see it.  Then mark 5 more spots between that line and the handle of the slide – giving you 6 sections.  With the plate in the holder and holder in camera and lens cap on – pull out the dark slide to that big line and give it the shortest exposure you’re testing for (in case of my test it was 1/2sec).  Then close the slide to the first mark and give it same exposure – now you have that strip exposed for 2x the previous one (so in my case 1sec).  Close it again to the next dot and give it the combination of two previous exposures (in my case 2sec).  Move slide in to next dot and give exposure again equal to sum of all previous exposures (so in my case 4sec).  Repeat for next two dots.

  Above test is all well and good if you know and keep a certain constant ideal development time for your chemistry.   However, what if you’re working with a new developer or collodion formula? Or what if instead of working in a temperature-controlled darkroom you all of a sudden find yourself in the desert of Arizona trying to shoot the most awesome cactus ever, but it’s 100°F out?  Well, then the “Anton Dev Test” might come in handy.  Simply sensitize a plate and give it no exposure, and keep it on the plate for say half the time you think you should in theory hold it on that cactus plate you’re about to nail. At that point, tip the plate away from you and, with developer all but gone off the plate, with a nice steady stream of water (not too strong – squirting rinse bottle actually works great for this) start rinsing the bottom quarter of the plate – back and forth, back and forth.  In 5 or 10 seconds move up and start rinsing the entire bottom half of the plate.  Then in another 5-10sec move up to three quarter line, and finally in another 5-10 rinse the whole thing.  Fix the plate and take a close look to see if any of the development time strips you created have overdevelopment fog in them.  If so, see where it starts and then your maximum possible development time should be a few seconds before that fog starts to appear.



  My developer was from the fridge and at 57°F, but in the darkroom it was 82°F, so I knew that in those conditions at about 45sec is when fog will start to show up. Personally, I like exposing in such a manner that I can go to the maximum development time possible.  Indeed, as you can see in above Anton Dev Test blank plate, it’s the 50sec strip that starts showing slight fog overall and has some very overdeveloped spots where some inconsistencies in the plate were.  By 60sec development all black areas are fogged badly.
  After working with collodion for a bit, I now know that the below scene, with Rodenstock Sironar 180mm lens at f32, and with my collodion and developer mixes, would need 4sec exposure and 42sec development. 


  However, there are certain times when you might want to overexpose and under-develop, or just over or underexpose and go to maximum dev time…  So, I moved the tripod in a little in order to have more even tones filling the composition, and below is the combination of Exposure Strip and Anton Dev Test. 
  As shown in the topmost image, in order to most accurately separate development areas I shielded those parts of the plate I didn’t yet want to wash off by laying a larger piece of glass right onto emulsion and pouring water over that, hence the scratches along those lines.


  I use KCN fixer - with severe underdevelopment (which is usually about ½ time or less of maximum development time, so in my case 20 of the possible 45 or so seconds) it actually eats away the few image silver particles that had time to form on the surface.  With other types of fixers this may not happen, but you’ll have really weak image with blue highlights.  At 30sec image is not bad in overexposed parts on top.  With 40sec the image is now acceptable in a wider range of exposures in the middle – it’s really all up to you to decide how you want a particular scene to look in the final plate…  With 50sec development there’s probably a touch of fog in the shadows, but there’s not a lot of shadows in that strip, so that little bit of it doesn’t really come out as very visible, however, even in less exposed parts, image is now looking a bit flatter.  Actually you can see fog pretty well in the 1/2sec exposure 50sec development section, but it looks like tone of the panel that's laying on the roof - it's not, that panel with that exposure and proper development would be near black. 

  As you can see – there’s quite a bit of leeway in how long you can expose and develop a plate for depending on your personal final vision for your image. The two tests above, in combination or separately, can be helpful to any beginner though when faced with new unfamiliar lighting, scene, or environment.


Anton


P.S. Something that might be of interest to all wet plate, daguerreotype and dry glass plate shooters - just two days ago I received a finished prototype of a new line of plate holders that will soon appear for sale via a separate page on this blog like our Custom Lens Caps and Head Brace.   As the prototype is not made of final materials and doesn't have the beautiful finish that it will have once ready to see, I opt out for posting the focal plane test plates below - looking spot on agains the known control! 


Monday, June 18, 2018

Two Collodion Tests - Acetone and 3 Different Fixers



  This post is about two quick collodion-related tests I did recently.  The picture above  is confusing, I know – it might lead one to believe the two halves of image are, when in fact they aren’t. It’s ok though, hopefully it got you intrigued and reading the post will clarify everything.

  Test #1 – Adding Acetone to Collodion to Bring Back Speed. 
This is something I’ve seen discussed online as a remedy for really old collodion that has gone red and slow.  In my case though, I think one of the salts I mixed was somehow bad, and so iodides got released immediately – making my collodion dark wine red within a couple of hours of mixing.  I rested it and it was 4 stops slower than another batch I was working with, when exposed a lot more though it performed well.  It was time to try the acetone trick…
  The solution people suggest to bring the speed back is to add ONE DROP of pure white acetone per 100ml of collodion.  Let it sit for some days while the reaction is going, and you’ll actually see it going from red to more orange and then to yellow.  I had 200ml of this super-slow red stuff, so I split it into two equal halves.  My memory failed me though, and instead of adding just one drop of acetone to my 100ml, I added 1ml (actually a little more), so over 10x the recommended amount!!!   It still took at least 5 days to reach yellow and gain speed.  


  A few notes.  People say that adding acetone will make your emulsion more fragile and some also say that it will make alcohol-based varnishes dissolve the image.   What I found (and this is after adding WAY more acetone than recommended) is that my emulsion did in fact become A TINY BIT more fragile (less pressure was needed to scratch wet emulsion with cotton ball while wiping off oysters, for example), but the difference seemed really insignificant. No images were dissolved with varnish (I use traditional sandarac formula).  I think the dissolving issue is probably unrelated to acetone.  Dissolving is most likely stemming from the fact that by the time most people try the acetone trick, their collodion has been sitting for many months or even over a year, and by then nitrocellulose actually started to deteriorate.  My actual collodion was new, so nitrocellulose was fresh and acetone didn’t make it be re-dissolvable again by varnish.
  After I did the test and the collodion with acetone performed at ISO 1 like new, I actually combined those refreshed 100ml with the other 100ml of deep red.  Seeing how I had 10x more acetone in there already, I didn’t add any more.  It’s been about a week now and the whole mix is light orange.  I shot Mission Dam plates with it the other day, and basically was shooting at ISO 0.75, so I’ve recovered over 2 stops from its deep red state.  All the plates varnished wonderfully.  I think in a few more days it’ll get to bright yellow, and back up to ISO 1.

TEST #2 – Three Fixers and Their Effect on Plate Brightness.
  A number of years back, when I was just starting my collodion journey, I saw Alex Timmermans’ Three Fixer Test as related to the eternal quest of wet plate photographers to get the brightest possible silver deposit in final image.  The debate is always – is there a way to get around using KCN (KCN is potassium cyanide and is very poisonous) and still have bright warm-tone images.  Alex’s test seemed to show barely any difference in the final look of the image. KCN seemd a tad brighter, followed closely by Amoloco and Sodium Thiosulfate (Hypo).  It seemed so close though, that for years I’ve been telling people that it makes barely any difference.  Personally, I started using KCN from the start – if you are careful with it, there’s really no danger when working with it.  I like how it works, I don’t need to wash my plates too long (as it washes out 4x quicker than conventional hypo), and it’s also very quick-acting, which always is a visual bonus when making plates in front of people.  However, a short while ago, someone with vast amount of experience did make an online remark that made me want to do my own test and see live what the difference really would be.

  The way I went about it is very simple, I pretty much followed Alex’s test procedure.  I had the same Lea #2 collodion that was used as comparison in Test #1. A 1/6th plate size piece of black glass was scored in two places, so that later it would be easier to break it into three pieces.  Using strobe lights, I made one test plate to dial in proper exposure and then made the final exposure on the pre-scored glass.  After development, the plate was rinsed copiously and then split into thirds.   Left part was fixed in Sodium Thiosulfate (Hypo), middle in KCN and right side in Ilford Rapid Fix.  To my surprise, I saw much greater difference than I expected, with KCN showing its usual bright creamy tone, but both Hypo and Ilford tones were duller and almost into the purple range when compared to middle section.  Varnishing with sandarac (last pic below) did seem to bring the tones a bit closer together, but brightness is still visibly different.





Anton


Saturday, June 16, 2018

San Diego Mission Dam


  This morning I was invited by Race and Ashton, my local buddies, to go fishing at the old San Diego Mission Dam.  I’m by no means a fisherman, especially being allergic to seafood of any kind, but I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to finally take the box I made for Europe Trip a couple of months ago for its first test on home soil.  The 203 year old dam is now surrounded by Mission Trails Park, great place to hike by the way, and, though water barely flows this time of the year, there’s still some great little nature vignettes, which one can find if they get off the beaten path far enough.  The over-the-shoulder dark box setup is perfect for such excursions.  

  I got very lucky, and all day the low marine layer clouds kept the sun at bay, while still providing plenty of UV for collodion. Race and Ashton cast their poles into the murky pond waters, and I set up my operation under a small tree upon gravel of a dry river wash.   Here’s my first plate and the darkroom setup.




  Meanwhile, Race knocked off his hat into the water while swinging his pole, leading to a lively rescue operation that saw the biggest catch of the day as the result.   Here, the target is being zeroed in on by Ashton.


  They continued to exert efforts of hooking a fish for a while, which gave me an opportunity to make a total of 7 plates including the one you see above.  All of the plates were secured on first try, except for one of the compositions, the ‘up the river shot’.  I really wanted to use a Petzval with wider aperture to get the certain look, and thee scene was so bright that I had to try a few times before I got my lens cap shutter technique down to yield an approximately 1/4sec exposure.   
  By the way, today’s images are all 4x5 in and were made with either of the following two lenses – Wide Angle RR Dallmeyer 1aa (4in focus) and a 7in Voigtlander Petzvla (stopped down for all exposures to 5.6).  They were copied after varnishing using a Canon 5DII, and color and tone adjusted in Lightroom to match the final look as close as possible. 








Anton

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wet Plate Yosemite Trip


  After getting back from Europe, it wasn’t a week until Conrad Young (local wet plate photographer) had a little adventure planned for us, which would take us by Will Dunniway’s place for a day and then just a day of shooting in beautiful Yosemite.  Since my girlfriend, Jozlynn, hasn’t been there yet, she was glad to come along as well.

5x7in tintype


  Will Dunniway has been a pillar in the world of wet plate collodion for close to three decades now.  He has taught numerous masters and influenced many more.  Will is a very traditional shooter and his work is outstanding.  Not long ago he moved from Los Angeles to the hills just south of Yosemite, so now it’s a pretty good trek to visit him, but it’s really worth it – he’s a kind soul with immense knowledge about collodion and many other topics.
  When visiting Will, Conrad and I got to pour our first 11x14 plates (a little project, which is not to be publicized, that we helped with).  11x14 is fun!  A lot of ether fumes…  
It was a long drive from San Diego, so for the rest of the day we just relaxed, and headed to bed early in order to get to Yosemite early next day.

  Will told us of a beautiful secluded spot in the middle of Yosemite Valley, from which three peaks can be photographed, and that was our first stop.  After lugging the gear from our car to a little meadow a few hundred feet away, Conrad and I set up our dark boxes and went to work, while Jozlynn painted. 
  At this location I made 6 positive plates (1 4x5in and 5 5x7in) and 5 5x7in negatives (one scene photographed twice).  Below are the plates and first prints from the 5 negatives.  These are just first proofs, they were made on Kodak AZO F1 paper.  I plan on printing them more seriously in the future, but this is a good representation of information in final prints. 
4x5in Tintype

5x7in Tintype

 5x7in Tintype

5x7in Tintype

5x7in Tintype

 5x7in Kodak AZO Print

 5x7in Kodak AZO Print

 5x7in Kodak AZO Print

 5x7in Kodak AZO Print



5x7in Kodak AZO Print


  The plan initially was to shoot at least in 3 locations, but the meadow was so serene, and views so spectacular, that, after packing up, we only had time to drive a bit farther, and into a spot where a good view of Yosemite Falls could be seen.  Everywhere except for the meadow tourists were teeming, so the sense of awe in presence of such magnificent landscape was somewhat muted in intensity.   The particular parking lot we chose was relatively small, and so crowds were sparse as well.  Absence of tourists however was more than made up in biomass for by swarms of hungry mosquitoes. They were too slow to keep up with us as we were setting up, but made their presence known immediately as we started pouring the first plate and had to stay still.  While developing one of the plates you see below, one of the little blood-suckers landed right inside my ear.  I heard him fly up, I felt the bite start, I felt it all the way through, I heard him fly off…  My arms were inside the film changing bag sleeves and my face buried in the snorkeling mask that acts as a window in my dark box.  I was completely defenseless for approximately a minute, and that little guy knew it, picking time to start his attack with precision of a four-star general.  I was robbed of a few drops of my blood, but in the end walked away with these plates, so I think it was worth it. 

 4x5in Tintype

 4x5in Tintype

 4x5in Tintype



4x5in Tintype

  In order to skip LA traffic we didn’t stay another night at Will’s, just swung by for a bit to show our haul of plates and to say our goodbyes.  We left about 10-11pm and I didn’t get back home till 4am, but it was well worth the lost hours of sleep – driving through Los Angeles at any time other than 1-5am can result in many endless hours of sitting in bumper-to-bumper gridlock.
  Yosemite is too close though not to go back, so in the future you might see more posts about excursions there.  
Anton